Nowadays I don’t see many keffiyehs. You know: that scarf with fringes, usually black and white, which is a sort of a symbol of Palestinian identity. It used to be a regular feature of the uniform of Mr Arafat, and many Israeli haters wear it. But as I said, the number of people wearing such a scarf is dwindling nowadays, even in Brighton. Palestinian identity and fashion don’t match anymore.
Lyrical sermon given by Rabbi Andrea Zanardo of Brighton today, the Shabbat following 30 November, the Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Evoking the story of Jacob and Esau, he wonders if supporters of the Palestinians can ever stop thinking of them as the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict (With thanks: Michelle, Jonathan)
Be as it may, I noticed the first keffiyeh of this year only this week. Just one. But it struck me, because it was on November 30th What’s so special about such a date, you may ask. Well, in the Israeli calendar November 30th is the “Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran”. The tragic end of those centuries’ old Jewish communities is remembered throughout the country, with official ceremonies of commemoration, at the Knesset and in various public places, such as schools and city halls.
I must admit: I was tempted. There was this lady, wearing that Palestinian scarf, one which I haven’t seen for a long time, on the day devoted to remember and to honour the tragically lost Jewish communities in the Arab Countries. I was tempted to ask that lady whether she knew the significance of the day in Israel, a State which I suppose she was not so fond of. I was tempted to ask that lady, who certainly cares very much about the Palestinians, if there was room for other Middle Eastern refugees, other victims, in her bleeding heart. If she knew that in 1948 there were more than 140.000 Jews in Algeria, and now there is none.
Whether she know that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian autocrat, declared all the Jews enemies of the State in 1956, (yes, just like in Nazi Germany, less than 30 years before), and signed the death sentence for the oldest Jewish community of the Mediterranean. Whether she has heard about the pogroms in Libya in 1966, when the mob assaulted, of all places, the Jewish orphanage in Tripoli, and left the teachers beheaded: that is long before the army of the Islamic State decided to revamp that ancient tradition.
I resisted the temptation and did nothing of that kind. But the comparison between the Palestinians and the Mizrahim, or North African Jews (and Jews from the Middle East – ed), lingered in my mind for a while.
What a stark contrast. The Palestinians are kept in refugee camps, in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, (if there are still some there), and the Palestinian Authority: those who at the moment rule the West Bank, that of Abu Mazen. They cannot find a job out of these camps, let alone live. They have to live off the benefits provided by the UN. The United Nations has a special agency, a well funded agency, expressly for Palestinian refugees; while all the other refugees, of all the other conflicts in the world, are cared by another agency. The Agency devoted to the Palestinians needs to justify its existence in order to receive funding from the UN. So they constantly review the very definition of “Palestinian refugees” in order to have a larger number of clients to care for. At the moment if you are a son, or a grandson, or a great grandson, of someone who, prior to 1948, lived in, what is nowadays Israel, for two years in then Palestine, you can call yourself a “Palestinian refugee” and you and your family can receive money from the United Nations, that is from the Western Countries, including England, and of course, oh the irony, Israel. And so you have all these people living in so called refugee camps, that actually are slums of Arab capitals, dreaming of an impossible return, to places that they themselves have never seen and in which only a grandparent had lived, for two years.
On the other hand think to the Mizrahim, the Jewish refugees from North African Countries (and the Middle East) . Part of them had also lived in refugee camps set up in France, Italy or (mostly) in Israel. But they had left those places after a few months. There is no such thing as a UN sponsored agency for the Jewish refugees. Mostly, because there is no need. They, their children and their grandchildren have moved on, and do not live in the shadow of the tragedy that happened in the past. They have been able to rebuild their lives and to turn the page.
It helps to put things into perspective, doesn’t it? It is an interesting comparison between Palestinian refugees, and the way they have been treated, one would say even spoon-fed, by the international community. Who did not help the Jewish refugees, that much, as we all know.
And it reminds me of the comparison between Jacob and Esau, which is narrated in this week’s Torah portion. Rebecca pushes Jacob, we are told, to steal the blessing that his father wanted to give to Esau, his brother. That is what we know from the text of the Torah. But think about what happened afterwards. Esau lived for years, for decades, in the shadow of the event, looking forward to the moment of revenge. While Jacob grew up and became a more mature person, through the vicissitudes that the Torah tells us: he met Rebecca, fell in love, worked for seven years to marry her, was cheated by Laban, found himself with Lea, whom he did not love, worked hard other seven years and finally could marry.
On one side you have someone, Esau, who became obsessed of being a victim, who could think of himself only as a victim of his brother’s tricks, which he had to suffer when he was young. While Jacob, on the other side, built a life for himself and became independent, mature. As a young man, he was so easily manipulated by his mother; as a mature human being, is able to see nuances and to understand complexities. He knows, he has learnt, that things are not always in black and white, that life is more than a perennial confrontation between victims and perpetrators.
This is not, as we know, the way the media look at the Middle East. They want us to believe that the situation is in black and white, that the Jewish State is the perpetrator, that the Palestinians are victims, always victims, forever victims, the only victims. And by peddling this representation, they erase or ignore the Jewish victims of the conflict. Which of course we, children of Jacob, have the duty to remember. At least one day per year.